Refrigerator is Hot - 120 Volts at Handle

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by molo, Jan 23, 2012.

  1. molo

    molo New Member

    Messages:
    840
    Location:
    cold new york
    I had an appliance repairman look at a fridge today. He made a minor adjustment and we plugged it into an outlet not normally used. Then he had one hand on the metal hinge of the fridge and one hand on the oven. He got shocked and the handle was showing 120 volts on his meter.

    He thought that there was reverse polarity at the outlet, but wasn't sure. I called an electrician who will be looking at it on Saturday.

    In the meantime, the appliance repairman told me that I can buy a device to check outlets for polarity.
    Do such devices work well? I want to avoid this problem, because the shock could have been a lot worse.

    Thanks,
    Bill
  2. Speedy Petey

    Speedy Petey Licensed Electrical Contractor

    Messages:
    988
    Location:
    NY State, USA
    Do such devices work for what? You already found that there is voltage on the refer case. It shouldn't matter why.

    A plug in tester will tell you somethings, but somethings can easily fool them. Like this is probably a case of an illegal ground on this circuit. A plug in tester would still read that as ok if all was well.
  3. molo

    molo New Member

    Messages:
    840
    Location:
    cold new york
    This is an older home, and there may be no ground wire.
  4. jwelectric

    jwelectric Electrical Contractor/Instructor

    Messages:
    2,529
    Location:
    North Carolina
    An Ideal Sure Shot will tell about all you would want to know but it is not cheap
  5. Rich B

    Rich B DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    283
    Location:
    New Jersey
    I think your repairmen was referring to a simple little contact tester you can buy for 10 or 15 bucks at any home center. It is plastic and about the size of a pen. Has a small thin blade that is stuck into an outlet. Smaller opening side is supposed to be the HOT side. If the HOT was wired to the wrong side of the outlet and the fridge has the neutral bonded to the metal body with a polarized type plug....you would get shocked when you touched something else that is grounded.....

    Those little testers are very handy and I use one at home lots of times.....

    Don't use that outlet untill you have it fixed....it's wired wrong....

    If it's an older home....it's likely BX and the casing is the ground.....outlets did not have recepticles with ground openings but there has to be a ground.....and your repairmen proved it when he got shocked.....he completed a circuit.....
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2012
  6. DonL

    DonL Jack of all trades

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Houston, TX
    You could have a shorted element in the oven also. Unless it is grounded you may never know it.

    The light bulb is about the only other source of current flow, unless it has electronic ignition.

    Read the current between the 2 appliances and you can find out real quick.
  7. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    quote; You could have a shorted element in the oven also.

    Few, if any, refrigerators have elements, electronic ignitions, or ovens. The outlet could have reverse polarity, or the plug could be inserted backwards if the grounding pin was removed, but in either case, the neutral wire should not be bonded to the refrigerators shell, although I have encountered the condition several times. In most cases the refrigerator was far enough from a grounded surface that the user could not touch the two points at the same time. A simple plug in outlet tester will verify the polarity of the outlet and the presence, or lack, of a ground circuit.
  8. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    I have one I use to check polarity and ground, and it has always reported correctly. It is about the size of a heavy/large plug on an extension cord or whatever, and it has indicator lights showing "correct", "reverse polarity" or "open ground". To use it in a 2-prong outlet, I use one of those adapters for plugging a 3-prong device into a 2-prong outlet ... but then you will only see the possibility of "correct" or "reverse polarity" since there is no ground prong going into the outlet.

    My guess would be that your repairman is correct and you only need to correct the polarity problem to stop that shock, and back in the days when the blades of 2-prong plugs were still the same size -- the neutral blade is now larger so the toaster cannot shock people -- we did that by simply reversing the plug going into the outlet.
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2012
  9. cacher_chick

    cacher_chick Test, Don't Guess!

    Messages:
    3,239
    Location:
    Land of Cheese
    595982-receptacle_tester_circuit_analyzer.jpg

    These are both cheap and handy, but will not show if the ground pin is wired to the neutral.
  10. kreemoweet

    kreemoweet New Member

    Messages:
    371
    Location:
    Seattle. WA
    Best not to assume too much here. I have on a couple of occasions had an "energized refrigerator shell" problem, and both times it was
    a frayed power cord rubbing on metal fridge parts.
  11. DonL

    DonL Jack of all trades

    Messages:
    3,819
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    I agree, Could be the oven also.

    I like to use one of these when troubleshooting.


    Meter.jpg
  12. Homeownerinburb

    Homeownerinburb New Member

    Messages:
    525
    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA USA
    Molo said it was an older house, but did not specify.

    I have seen knob and tube even recently, which of course provides no ground under any circumstances. Good time to install some GFI's assuming one does not want a full re-wire.

    There was a time before proper NM (Non Metallic Cable, which includes a grounding wire) when there were plastic sheathed cables that carried two insulated conductors without a ground. I have even seen a plastic sheathed cable that had a hot that had insulation, and a grounded (neutral) wire in the sheath but without a jacket of its own. Yikes! I find the code baffling enough, but I appreciate it and try to hew to it.......

    I dare say in plenty parts of the world receptacles and switches need not be housed in boxes at all, and that wire can be twisted together and taped, and no inspector is going to show up and say boo. I like how we do it better.
  13. Homeownerinburb

    Homeownerinburb New Member

    Messages:
    525
    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA USA

    Can one determine that if one goes to the panel assuming one is competent, and after shutting off the power to the circuit (or better, the whole panel) and then pull the neutral and ground from the bus bar(s) and test for continuity across them?
  14. molo

    molo New Member

    Messages:
    840
    Location:
    cold new york
    Final Determination:

    The electrician determined the outlet was wired incorrectly (hot and neutral reversed). He had a device similar to the one pictured in post #9 (not the multimeter). He used this on the outlet and it only told him "no ground". He said that it wouldn't tell him if there was reverse polarity. He then checked a nearby GFCI with the same plug-in device which said that the GFCI had a ground.
    The outlet that the refrigerator was plugged into was approx. 6' away from the GFCI. The electrician used a single strand of 12-2 wire and pushed the end (stripped of it's insulation into the ground opening on the GFCI outlet. He then used his multi-meter to check the voltage at each opening of the outlet. The multi-meter showed voltage at the wrong side of the outlet.
    He pulled the outlet and it was in fact wired backwards. The wire is 2-wires (each individual wire insulated) wrapped in a black insulation.


    Bill
  15. Runs with bison

    Runs with bison New Member

    Messages:
    891
    Location:
    Midwest
    We had a fridge like this in the dairy barn when I was growing up. From time to time it would give me a good zap while I had several gallons of milk in my arms and grabbed the handle. Somehow I always managed to hang onto the milk. It was exhilirating, but not fun. I wore heavy rubber boots a matter of course. Don't know if it was that ancient relic of a fridge or the barn's wiring.
  16. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    Thats a harbor fright $1.99 tester, but they actually work, though not likely safely. I regret to admit I have several spread about in odd places where one need not hunt for the 'real' one.
  17. DonL

    DonL Jack of all trades

    Messages:
    3,819
    Location:
    Houston, TX
    Can't afford to buy new batteries for that price.

    A Cat II is fine for around the house.

    You don't even have to stand on them spare tires.
  18. Rich B

    Rich B DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    283
    Location:
    New Jersey
    "If the HOT was wired to the wrong side of the outlet and the fridge has the neutral bonded to the metal body with a polarized type plug....you would get shocked when you touched something else that is grounded....."

    I really should have said COULD get shocked not WOULD get shocked.



    I quoted myself from an earlier post......Thats why they pay me the big bucks.....LOL


    I just had another machine in my shop.....a welder. A 3 phase male plug on it and it was a single phase machine. They used one of the normally hot terminals in the plug for the ground. I am sure the recepticle it is plugged into is wired to make it work but if by chance the machine was plugged into the same type recepticle that really was wired to supply 3 phase power the machines metal parts would all have been energized and shock anyone who came in contact with it and a ground. The last thing I do when completing a machine repair is check the input cord and plug. Most times I have to disconnect that cord to connect my house power as there are too many variations. I have 2 different 230 3 phase supplies I can use for testing machines......
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2012
  19. Homeownerinburb

    Homeownerinburb New Member

    Messages:
    525
    Location:
    Los Angeles, CA USA
    That is both dicey and an unnecessary risk. Better practice surely is to plug a proper extension cord such that you would run a power tool on, into the questionable outlet, then take the female end to an outlet that you know to be properly wired. Then one uses a proper multi meter with probes into the various slots (carefully!).
  20. kreemoweet

    kreemoweet New Member

    Messages:
    371
    Location:
    Seattle. WA
    @molo: So what did the electrician do about the energized fridge? The reverse polarity at the plug should not
    cause anyone to get shocked , because the fridge should not be connected to either of the conducters. If you
    don't fix that, you still have a hazard.
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